Capone tries to break up but stay friends with CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER star/co-writer Rashida Jones and co-writer Will McCormack!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
In the last couple of weeks, I've spoken to three different actresses of varying degrees of popularity who all got tired of the second-fiddle roles they've been getting for most of their professional lives. And they all did the same thing to combat this epidemic of subpar roles for smart, talented actresses, who for whatever reason haven't quite made it to leading roles in Hollywood movies. One of those women is Rashida Jones, star of the whip-smart "Parks and Recreation," who has done some pretty great supporting work in such films as I LOVE YOU, MAN, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE BIG YEAR, THE MUPPETS, and OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Her TV work has also been strong, with roles in "Freaks and Geeks," "Boston Public," and most notably in "The Office."
But a leading role for Jones has been elusive, until she paired up with fellow actor and friend Will McCormack (SYRIANA, "Brothers & Sisters," "In Plain Sight") to write the screenplay for CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, the story of a divorcing couple (Jones and her good friend Andy Samberg) who attempt to stay best friends even as their marriage is ending. The film has its funny moments, but for the most part, everyone plays things striaght, and the resulting emotional kick is pretty hefty and aimed squarely in the gut. Most importantly, the role of Celeste gives Jones a chance to stretch her acting muscles in ways she's never been allowed to working in someone else's film.
I recently got to sit down in Chicago with the newest writing team of Jones and McCormack (they have already written other things since CELESTE AND JESSE). I first me Jones three-and-a-half years ago while she was doing press during SXSW for I LOVE YOU, MAN, and both times she proved to be an absolute blast to talk to, especially this time with McCormack, since the two form a wonderful comedy team when being interviewed. Please enjoy Rashida Jones and Will McCormack…
Will McCormack: It’s good to meet you.
Capone: You too. Rashida, we met a few years back in Austin for the I LOVE YOU, MAN stuff.
RJ: Yeah, at SXSW.
Capone: Right, exactly.
RJ: How long ago was that?
Capone: Three or four years ago?
RJ: Was that only three years ago? Does that that not feel like 20 years ago?
Capone: 2009, right?
RJ: March of 2009.
WM: Gosh, that feels like a decade ago.
RJ: Wow. Where did we meet? I don’t even remember.
Capone: It was in a hotel.
RJ: Oh yeah, that was so fast.
Capone: I remember telling you that a friend of mine had the "Freaks and Geeks" yearbook edition box set and she was trying to get everyone’s signatures…
RJ: And you didn’t bring it. Yes, I remember!
Capone: I don’t think I knew I was talking to you when I got on the flight down there. Well, it’s good to see you again.
RJ: It’s nice to see you again.
Capone: A lot of films that try to mix humor and drama don’t quite get it right--even films from seasoned screenwriters. So I can see why as a first-time screenwriters, you'd want to tackle something with humor and rip-out-your-heart sadness. You were playing it safe, right? It’s almost impossible, yet you guys did a really great job of nailing it.
WM: Thank you.
Capone: Why did you decide to go and dive into the deep end?
RJ: Because we are idiots. [laughs]
WM: We wanted to torture ourselves. I feel like we never even had a choice.
RJ: Yeah, I feel like we're both so hard on ourselves and each other that we knew that if we didn’t tackle the thing that we wanted, if we didn’t set the goal high, we wouldn’t have finished it. It wouldn’t have felt worth it to finish it.
WM: Yeah, and we had discussed relationships and heartbreak so much that we wanted to be really honest about it, about what it actually feels like, because I know I’ve been crushed before and I feel like somehow this process of making the movie was therapeutic in a way; it was a way to let it all out and just be really honest about it and hopefully connect to other people who have been through like gnarly breakups and say, “Hey, we're in this together.”
RJ: I was in a pretty dark place.
WM: You were in a super dark place. You did not have a choice.
RJ: I had no choice [laughs]. Comedy could only come through pain for me.
Capone: And pain can only come through pain, too.
RJ: That’s totally true.
Capone: You make it sound like it wouldn’t have even been worth it to you unless you were going to lay it all out there.
RJ: For this one, yes. And look, I love a straight comedy too, but I think for us, it wouldn’t have felt worth it.
WM: Yeah, for the most part I want to go to the movies and laugh, but life’s short and I want to go, and after, I want to think about like why I’m here. “What are we doing here?” “What’s the point?” I want to go to the movies and talk a little bit about that and so we wanted to give it some umph, you know?
Capone: It seems like that’s becoming a trend now. There were a lot of films at Sundance this year that had this more honest approach towards relationships, and that’s a good thing, because we’ve been inundated with rom-coms that have meant nothing to men or women other than just going out and having fun. To tackle it this way feels fresh, more like romantic drama. Were there particular films that you looked to and said “We’ve got to aim towards that, even if we don’t hit it”?
RJ: Well the Holy Grail is ANNIE HALL, and you hope that you have any modicum of the humor and the themes that that movie has, the melancholy, the unhappy ending, the realistic ending. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…, BROADCAST NEWS, HUSBANDS AND WIVES…
WM: Cameron Crowe…
RJ: Yeah, anything by Cameron Crowe, Woody Allen, James Brooks, Norah Ephron.
WM: Yeah, those were the movies that we grew up on and made me want to watch movies, try to write them, and hopefully be in them. Those are the movies I fell in love with, so those were definitely the inspirations.
Capone: Were there any sort of trappings that you wanted to avoid? That you sort of set out “We can’t do that.”
WM: Romantic comedies are hard to write, I think, because they are so familiar. There’s a structure, you fall in love, you fall out of love, and then you probably fall in love again. There were certain turns where you look for just the freshest way to keep it evolving.
Capone: Well jumping in at the end of a relationship is one way to do it, I guess.
Capone: You had to have been inundated with the question of “Why are these two people even breaking up?” which is something you kind of withhold, what their issues were until deeper into the film I think. Why did you choose to do it that way? It’s actually quite fascinating. Like one of the great mysteries of the film is “Why is it happening this way? They seem so nice together.”
WM: I think that the characters aren’t even sure until they have that big fight on the street, but it’s a thing where I’m not even sure they are sure. Celeste thinks that they are growing apart and that he will never change, and then I think when they separate and he does begin to change, she wonders, “Oh shit, was I the impediment to his change? Would he have changed with me?” I think she begins to second guess her decision until they have that fight when they say things that had been building for a decade.
RJ: But also like when you speak to people about why they break up, there’s never one reason. Only in movies is there a reason and generally what happens is this amalgam of reasons, and then it manifests itself in feeling like you’re falling out of love, so your love and your sex can’t save the things that you no longer agree upon.At the beginning of the movie, I think it’s kind of clear. She thinks, “Oh, I’ve fallen out of love with him because he no longer represents the kind of man I want to be with.” Then she takes him for granted, and then he changes a tiny bit and she sees the thing that she wanted all along and she tries to get it back, and then the timing is bad. I think at first, he doesn’t really want to break up. I think he is just kind of going along with it, because he’s waiting for her to change her mind.
Capone: Was writing this movie a response to wanting to have a really good role that you could play that no one was coming to you with?
WM: Yeah. We were like, “We should write a great part for you.”
RJ: We read a lot of scripts as actors, and some of them are good and some of them are not so good.
WM: Yeah, and if you can do it yourself, you should, because parts are so hard to get.
RJ: I wouldn’t get cast in this part. [laughs]
WM: And there are so many good actors. We were saying before, it’s really humbling, people come in and read for the movie and they're incredible. Everyone in L.A. was the best actor at their college, they can all play the parts. It comes down to who do you really know and want to work with? There are so many brilliant actors, it was really humbling to watch people come in and just slay.
Capone: I was going to ask you that. Do you think that if someone else had written this that you would have been given a shot to play a role like this?
RJ: No, I don’t. Actually, there was a point in that many incarnations of trying to get this movie made where there was a studio that wanted to buy it and they were like, “We want to reserve the right to cast somebody who is financially more viable in a foreign counry,” and I was like, “Let me think about it.” And at first I was like, “Yeah!” because we were just so excited to even sell the movie, and then I pictured myself not in it and it was somebody else and I was like, “Oh my God, no.” It felt like such a violation, but that could have happened too.
Capone: You’ve known Andy for a long time. Who had the confidence that he could handle this?
RJ: I’ve been friends with Andy for a long time, and to be honest I wasn’t sure. I mean I knew him as a person. I knew he had the depth.
Capone: This wasn’t written for him though, right?
RJ: No, really the relationship is us [gestures to McCormack], this relationship, but I didn’t know and because you have to want to be honest to make that happen. Lee Krieger, our director, was very intent on it being Andy, and then Andy was also very intent on it being Andy, because he was like, “I can do this. I’ve got this. It’s in me. I’m ready.”
WM: It was fun to watch.
Capone: Was there a sense of fear driving him as well?
RJ: I feel like it was just enough like him as a person for him to feel like he could tackle it, but just different enough from the things that he normall does to feel scared enough by it to want to do it. It’s smart, because it is in his wheelhouse. It’s like the dialog and the lingo and the relationship are very much like him.>
WM: Yeah, I felt like, in his world, the language felt very much something that Andy is.
RJ: We both grew up on the West Cast with similar musical references, cultural references, so he could relate enough to that to challenge himself on the other side.
Capone: Was it weird being physically intimate with him?
RJ: Yeah. By the way, it’s always weird being physically intimate in front of lots and lots of people with your friend, but interestingly enough, it was kind of weirder to argue with him; it felt less natural to argue with him and harder. I really felt like we had to talk afterwards and be like, “You’re cool? I’m cool? Okay, good. Let’s hug it out,” because it felt real. I felt like we were really fighting.
WM: That’s good.
RJ: It hurt. [Laughs]
Capone: Assuming that you were thinking of yourself when you wrote Celeste, what was the thing you liked about her the least?
RJ: She’s tough. There’s definitely some things there that are just magnified versions of me. I would never sit here and lie and tell you that I have any problem with her wanting things to be right and fair, but I don’t know if I would call somebody out in the middle of a coffee shop. Maybe I would…
WM: You might.
RJ: I might…
WM: “Justice Jones.”
RJ: That’s what he calls me: Justice Jones. What do I not like about her?
WM: I think her insistence on justice and on being right.
RJ: She’s too hard to crack. It takes so long to get the message through with her.
WM: And I also think, knowing what’s right for her in her own life and being wrong. It’s such a mystery, right? Why we're all here, where we're going. To me it is. It’s a total mystery, and to think you have that figured out is arrogant. It’s arrogance, and she learns a rough lesson.
RJ: It's ridiculous. I would say the fact that it takes her so long to get this little lesson is something I don’t like about her. I feel like she has to get broken down so many times, and then I’d say the other thing is that she is really judgmental with Riley [a music client of Celeste's, played by Emma Roberts]. Like she is really unaccepting and judgmental of Riley and I don’t think I would be like that. I love pop stars.
WM: But I like your evolution in the movie, because in the end when you do say to Andy, “I want you to be happy and I wish that for you always,” that’s a big thing to say to someone, and I genuinely believe you in that moment when you say it. That’s a big deal to say that to someone; someone else’s success is not your demise. It’s not changing the world, but to really be truly happy for someone who hurt you is a big deal, I think. It’s a big growth as a human being.
Capone: When you guys were writing this, since you said it was sort of based on your relationship, were you writing Celeste and you writing for Jesse?
WM: It was both.
RJ: Yeah, we would talk out a scene and decide what we wanted to happen in that scene and then we would start talking it out, or one person would write the scene, show it to the other person, the other person would change it. But we were face to face, side by side the whole time.
WM: Yeah, it was pretty even. I have a very feminine side of me. I have a lot of girlfriends and sisters, and she’s kind of masculine, so we meet in the middle.
RJ: I have a lot of masculinity, but I don’t feel like your voice is like definitively male and mine is definitively female, but we're in the middle somewhere.
Capone: I love the scenes where the people who have to hang out with them get really uncomfortable. If you show up at a party and your ex is there, whether you know it or not, you really do feel like all the eyes are on you, even if nobody gives a shit. What is it about that scenario that other people can’t handle?
RJ: People are always thinking about themselves. If you go to a wedding and people are crying, they're thinking about themselves. When other people tell you they're pregnant or are getting married like the first thing you think of is “Oh my God, I’m not pregnant. I’m not married.” Nobody is thinking about you, they're thinking about themselves and how it reflects on them.
WM: Also it’s like a showdown, right? It’s like a modern-day showdown when people like meet up . It’s drama…melodrama.
Capone: Why was it important that this couple was a married couple as opposed to just people that have lived together for 10 years? Was it about that definitive break?
RJ: There’s a legality to it that I think makes the stakes higher. This is going to sound so cynical, but “marriage” is short hand for “committed relationship.” When you say, “They're divorced,” it’s much easier to explain that than “Well they lived together for 10 years and they were really good friends, but now they're together, but they didn’t want to get married and are separating.”
WM: I think it raised the stakes, and we also always wanted to write that divorce scene…
Capone: Oh, the signing the papers scene.
RJ: Yeah, when they high-five while they were divorcing.
Capone: Which you don’t actually have to do in the same room, but it is a great cinematic moment.
RJ: How about we don’t know that? Never been married!
Capone: That is not something that ever usually happens in the same room.
RJ: A reporter was just telling me that… Oh no, this was different. He was refinancing his house with his wife, and they were separated, but they had to pretend like they were still together to refinance their house. So they did it in the same room and they had to act like they were married, and then afterward they went outside and high-fived each other.
WM: No way, that’s amazing.
Capone: In case we run out of time, I did want to talk about what you guys have coming up next. When does "Parks and Rec" start shooting again?
RJ: Two weeks. Less than two weeks, a week and a half. I guess I’m back to work in a week and a half.
Capone: I feel like since the show has been off the air, I’ve seen all of these movies with everybody from the cast.
RJ: I know, it’s such a star-studded cast.
Capone: Nick Offerman’s movie just sold today.
RJ: Which one is that?
Capone: SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.
WM: Oh yeah! That movie that was at SXSW.
Capone: In fact, I have my Offerman Woodshop t-shirt on today.
RJ: [laughs] I love the Offerman Woodshop. In fact, I just commissioned a piece. Not just--it’s been a year, and I’m still waiting on it--but I’ve commissioned a beautiful piece.
WM: He’s amazing though, right?
Capone: I ran into him at SXSW. He was in the audience for Aubry’s movie [SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED]. He was there sitting right behind me, and I recognized his voice, and I turned around and he was completely shaved, and I said, “Is that your disguise?”
RJ: It’s so weird. He does that after every season, it’s great.
Capone: And they did give the show the full run for this coming season from what I understand.
RJ: Apparently so, yeah that’s what they are saying.
Capone: That’s great news, because I know at first it was only like half a season.
RJ: But I don't trust it. I don’t trust any of it. Every season, they have ortured us.
Capone: They start you late…
RJ: Every season, we’ve had a different order of episodes.
Capone: They’ve given you like a premiere date in September, and allegedly 20-some episodes…
RJ: We'll see.
Capone: I heard the show is having a couple of episodes in D.C.
RJ: They shot in D.C. a couple of days ago.
Capone: That’s so funny.
RJ: I know.
Capone: Obviously, you didn’t get to go.
RJ: We were in D.C. two days later.
WM: Yeah, we just missed them.
Capone: You could have just walked in the background or something.
Capone: So movie-wise though, you’ve got a couple of things.
RJ: Yeah, I did a movie called DECODING ANNIE PARKER. I don’t know when that’s coming out, with Samantha Morton and Corey Stoll.
WM: I can’t wait to see that.
RJ: That shot so long ago. Then I just finished a movie called CUBAN FURY.
Capone: Right, which has an awesome cast.
RJ: Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Ian McShane…awesome.
Capone: Who do you play in it?
RJ: Me and Chris O’Dowd and Nick Frost all work at an engineering lathe company together. I’m their boss, and Nick Frost was a brilliant salsa dancer as a kid and he got beat up.
Capone: He’s the salsa dancer? I didn’t realize that.
RJ: And then he finds out that I like to salsa dance on the weekends and he has a crush on me, and so it inspires him to find his “Cuban fury.”
WM: It’s a great story.
RJ: Yeah, it’s good.
WM: It’s a great premise for a film. We should have thought of it.
RJ: [laughs] It’s really good and it’s really funny. It’s really sweet and also there will be salsa dancing in it.
Capone: In terms of writing again, do you envision yourself making this a semi-permanent thing that you get together every couple of years?
RJ: We’ve been writing since this movie; we’ve done some writing assignments. We wrote a movie for Universal that hopefully will get made, it’s based on a comic book.
WM: We wrote a pilot. She created a comic book, and we did the adaptation as a film. It’s called “Frenemy of the State” on Oni Press. It came out last year, and we have like five issues. It’s about a socialite who is recruited to become a spy. So hopefully that'll get made. If not, we're still kicking around ideas right now and we want to just take our time, maybe direct next time.
Capone: So you are officially like a writing team now?
WM: We are. We're fully a team.
RJ: Yeah, we are.
Capone: One thing that struck me about CELESTE AND JESSE was that much like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY talks about how men and women can’t be friends, which we all know is not true, but at the same time it makes you re-examine every friendship that you have with the opposite sex. Your film seems to be saying people who were married really can’t just be friends again after a divorce.
RJ: I think they can be. I think there just needs to be time to really process and heal and accept the new terms of the relationship.
Capone: It can’t just be painless.
RJ: Yeah, these two try to outsmart the process, and they lose the battle hard. I really feel like the message of the movie is they will always love each other and they will find a new way to be in each other’s lives, but you’ve got to give it some time.
WM: Yeah, and also people get hurt, and it’s usually unintentional. I don’t think Jesse ever tried to hurt Celeste, and I don’t think you every tried to hurt Jesse. It's life and you try to be dignified and civil, and I think you can be if you communicate.
Capone: There is that weird feeling in the beginning scenes that they are delaying the mourning period that has to happen.
RJ: Denial, yeah there's some deep denial.
Capone: It’s kind of fun to watch, because they're cute together. At the same time, you’re like, “This is going to be so bad,” which of course it is. It’s horrible, it rips your heart out, and damn you for making me feel that way.
RJ: I’m so happy I made you feel that way, sorry. And thank you so much.
Capone: Thank you guys so much. It’s great to see you.
RJ: It’s really nice to see you again.
WM: It was a pleasure.
Capone: Good luck with this.
RJ: I’ll see you in some other state in the future.
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Aug. 9, 2012, 1:20 a.m. CST
by Mark Charles
Aug. 9, 2012, 1:41 a.m. CST
Aug. 9, 2012, 2:34 a.m. CST
Needs bigger roles. Talented and hot.
Aug. 9, 2012, 2:37 a.m. CST
Are you reading Joss?? We all know you're developing a Hulk TV show.............
Aug. 9, 2012, 3:25 a.m. CST
Aug. 9, 2012, 6:11 a.m. CST
Because saying "SXSW" is a bit of a tongue-twister.
Aug. 9, 2012, 10:50 a.m. CST
Aug. 9, 2012, 10:54 a.m. CST
That might just be the best news I've heard all day. Hope it's true!
Aug. 9, 2012, 10:56 a.m. CST
Aug. 9, 2012, 2:54 p.m. CST
I lubs me some Bi Racial booty.
Aug. 10, 2012, 1:07 a.m. CST
by Balkin Flabgurter
easy 10 mill if you got her naked.
Aug. 10, 2012, 1:09 a.m. CST
by Balkin Flabgurter
that even sounds good.
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